Wednesday, 26 October 2011


By Ann Evans

On a recent school visit, one little chap innocently asked, “How old are you?” Now, I'll answer any question truthfully to a class of nine and ten year olds – even that old favourite: “How much money do you get?” Oh but the age thing. So out came my stock answer, which is to say that I started writing when my children were tiny and now they are grown up with children of their own. Then as they're busy calculating the years, I get on with telling them something more interesting.

But that old cliché 'out of the mouths of babes', certainly rings true whether you're talking to a class of junior school children or your own offspring and grand-kids. One bright spark at another school did a quick calculation – not about age this time, but on rejection. I always tell the youngsters that I had six different novels rejected before I finally had one accepted – stressing the need for perseverance. I'd earlier shown them a typical 60,000 word manuscript (I was trying for Mills & Boon and adult crime stories at the time). Out of the blue a little ten year old put his hand up and said, “Miss, you wrote 420,000 words before you got anything accepted!”

Put like that I was stunned. So thanking him for making my day, I reiterated the need for perseverance in whatever you choose to do. Fortunately almost half a million rejected words didn't seem to put anyone off wanting to be a writer when they grow up!

What would we do without the thoughts and comments of our young readers though? It was purely because of an email from a little girl that two of my books even got written. Shortly after my book The Beast came out, I received an email via my website from a little girl who said, “I enjoyed The Beast, what's going to happen to Karbel now?”

Karbel is my ghost of a sabre toothed tiger, haunting a remote Scottish Valley. So I sat down to reply to her, thinking, I haven't a clue what's going to happen to him, but I had to think of something... Before the day was out I'd got an outline for a second and third book. Happily the publisher loved the ideas and I loved the little girl who had pushed me into thinking a little deeper.

I count myself lucky now in having my very own number one fan and critique all rolled into one – Jake, my eldest grandchild. At 13 and almost as tall as me (as he constantly points out) he's always been keen to read my latest offering. In fact there was an incident that made me smile a while back. He was sitting on my bed reading one of my books. I was sitting at the computer next to the bed madly typing away on a new story. For a moment it felt like a little production line which made us both smile.

I was looking through one of those old rejected manuscripts from years ago. It was an adult crime story and in it, the dog dies. I remember at the time, talking about the story to my local writers group and how horrified they all were at the thought of the dog dying. “You can't kill the dog!” they all yelled.

As a keen reader and story writer himself, Jake has always been eager to come up with ideas and suggestions when I've been stuck and one suggestion he made recently certainly struck a cord.

I told Jake my storyline. Surprise, surprise when he exclaimed, “You can't kill the dog!”
Never mind the humans who come to a sticky end, the message was loud and clear, the dog had to live. Perhaps that was why it never got accepted. Maybe the newer dog friendly version will have better luck.

Grandson Jake and pal.
When visiting schools, I generally read a section from one of my Beast books. The Reawakening has a puppy called Scooby in it, and my favourite passage to read is when Karbel snatches the puppy and runs off with it in his ghostly jaws. It's a great cliffhanger and I just love seeing their faces when I end with the line: ...Until finally, he couldn't see the mass of shimmering light at all, and Scooby was just a speck in the distance. And then she was gone.
Inevitably they all want to know - does the puppy dog die?
Fear not, I tell them – no animals were hurt in the writing of this book!
I wouldn't dare do otherwise!


Daily Talk Blog said...
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Lynda Waterhouse said...

My stock answer to the age question is 'as old as my tongue but a little bit older than my teeth' I dread to think how many words of mine have flowed under the bridge of rejection.
Yesterday I was writing a scene which culminated in a beloved pet dog being run over and no it didn't die!

JO said...

I used to work with traumatised children who had been lied to so often that I always answered the age question honestly.

Even when one little girl looked particularly horrified and said, 'But you're even older than my nan!'

(And they played out lots of death and dying. The point, for them, was survival when all around was in chaos.)

Ann Evans said...

I like your comment about the age question Lynda, may I borrow that at some point?

And Jo, I heartily agree that you should never lie to children, but there's some things they don't need to know. What I especially like to point out to youngsters is that there are no age barriers when it comes to writing. It doesn't matter how old or how young you are. It's the enjoyment of creating stories that counts.

Susan Price said...

No, you can't kill the dog. I killed the dog in my Sterkarm Handshake, and I've never heard the last of it!

Rosalie Warren said...

But apparently you can kill off a child and no one minds too much (I discovered that in 'Coping with Chloe')...

Penny Dolan said...

How useful to have such a helpful grandson! There's something so fresh and open about their instinctive responses.

As for him helping you with suggestions!!! You might have to fend of lots of begging letters to Plot Doctor Jake from now on. :-) A very nice post!

Katherine Langrish said...

You can't kill the dog. Patrick Ness did. I've not forgiven him yet.

Yvonne Coppard said...

I always tell children that I am much, much older than they can possibly imagine. 'Older than your mum,' I say. 'Almost certainly older than your gran. Maybe even older than your great, great gran twice removed' I let that sit in the imagination for a couple of seconds, then I tell them the truth (56) and they very gratifyingly say, 'Oh you're not THAT old!' But actually, I think writing is one of the few professions where being old has a bit of kudos. The telly is full of bright, glamorous young things, and lots of children rarely see their grandparents. When they do see older peiople in the media it's usually a story about a frail vulnerable adult being cheated or abused in some way.So really, really old people (you know,50+) who are still able to walk and talk are a bit of a novelty.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

And don't EVER write about clubbing baby seals to death in a cull. Because no matter how good your book is, it will come back to haunt you. A writer friend of mine did... to her peril! But apparently its permissible to kill humans in your story.

madwippitt said...

(Glad you were paying attention Sue P!)

Karen said...

Never ever kill a dog, Ann and never tell a class of kids your age! I always tell them it's a secret :)Love the pic of Jake.

Ann Evans said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. That's agreed then - the dog lives every time! It's okay to bump off the humans though.
Yvonne, I love your suggestion about the age thing. And Penny I think Jake would love offering his advice - he's never short of anything to say.
Karen - thank you for your lovely comment.